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Jonna Jensen sees fruitful ministry ahead for PNC

Jonna Jensen began as short-term half-time acting conference minister of the Pacific Northwest UCC conference minister in April, giving support while the PNC seeks an intentional interim conference minister, who will serve two to three years.

Jonna Jensen attended Annual Meeting and serves the PNC on Zoom, email and phone.


She is assisting the conference with basic needs until the end of October.

Jonna already was serving remotely 10 hours a week helping acting conference minister Courtney Stange-Tregear with congregations searching for ministers before she resigned as of Annual Meeting.

Interviewed June 22, Jonna said she finds “exciting, engaged, vibrant congregations with a wealth of gifted pastoral and lay leaders. I also appreciate working with the conference staff, who are splendidly gifted, to provide support for their work.”

Jonna comes to the PNC after two years of working as the transitional conference minister for the Maine Conference.

For two years she was on-site in Augusta, Maine. For the PNC, however, 10 and now 20 hours a week does not give time to visit congregations or have much direct contact, but she could fly for such a visit if necessary.

“I am working remotely by emails, calls and Zoom,” she said, noting she also continues to work part-time with the Tri-Conference ministry of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, helping with pastoral searches.

“The UCC has an increasing number of small churches seeking part time pastors,” Jonna said, noting the difficulty of pastors relocating to a community for part-time ministry opportunities. “There is a need to look for people within congregations who will answer the call to authorized ministry.”

It’s quite a contrast to when she graduated from seminary at Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Newton Centre, Mass., in 1981 when she was told there were more pastors than churches and she might not find a call immediately.

In the spring of 1982, she was called to serve Olds UCC in Olds, Iowa, where she was pastor for seven years, followed by 19 years at Central City, Iowa, UCC, before joining the Iowa Conference staff.

That staff morphed to be shared by three conferences in a creative ministry, which she said is at the “forward edge” of new approaches to conference work. The three conferences have not merged but share staff. In contrast, the Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island conferences voted in 2017 to merge to be the Southern New England Conference.

She sees many options for the future for UCC conferences, especially now with remote work possible.

In the Midwest, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota conferences remain independent while served ay a single “Tri Conference UCC Ministries” staff. The staff includes one full-time and two-part-time associate conference ministers, two full-time and one part-time support staff. The newest addition are 17 conference deacons—retired ministers, part-time ordained ministers and lay leaders—who are each responsible for checking in with 20 to 30 congregations to provide care and connections.

She sees these models as emerging from conversations about how to effectively use resources, given the shortage of people available to serve as pastors today.

Jonna said Lee Albertson, on the national UCC staff, helps conferences find conference ministers, not only working with those applying for such work but also recruiting them.

She added that it is amazing what ministries can happen using email, phone and Zoom.

For example, the previous week she joined in a Zoom meeting between the Iowa conference and partners in the German church in Bremen.

“We get together every other month, sharing a time to talk and an educational piece. The Bremen church offered a speaker on immigration in Germany, giving rise to conversation on common concerns related to immigration across the miles geographically,” she said.

Jonna said her roots and second language are Norwegian. After graduating from high school in 1973, she studied a year in Norway and spent a summer as a nurses aide.

She then went to the University of Iowa and earned a bachelor’s degree in religion.

“I felt called to ministry and began a doctoral program in theology and ethics, while my husband began law school. He was able to complete his studies at Harvard, so that I could complete a master of divinity degree at Andover Newton Theological School, a seminary known for its strengths in the study of pastoral care and for its vibrant field education programs.”

While committed to parish ministry, she decided, at the impetus of the Holy Spirit, to apply when the Iowa Conference was seeking an associate conference minister.

“I did it as a spiritual discipline to offer myself. My congregation laughed. I was chosen for an interview, expecting not to be chosen, but when I was called, I accepted,” she said. “My happy place is in parish ministry, but I have gifts for working with pastors in conference ministry. It’s hard work, but I find joy and excitement in it.

“It requires patience and a sense of humor,” she said noting that she has a knack for that given that she began ministry in her second congregation part-time, supporting herself by doing comedy.

The Tonight Show held a comedy contest, and her husband urged her to enter.

“I did to prove him wrong, but I was a semi-finalist in the regional competition,” she said. “My winning at that level got press, so people began contacting me to do comedy programs. That sustained me for ten years, while the congregation grew to support me full time.

“What we experience in life is serious. Doing the work of ministry, we are dealing with life changes, suffering and loss. Comedy can help sustain us, as a means to find rest and balm to restore our souls through the difficulties to revive our gifts with playful stories,” Jonna said.

“Part of comedy has come naturally to me from listening to my Norwegian family tell jokes on themselves. I used to sit behind a chair with my cousins while my grandfather and uncles told stories about their lives,” she said.

In her second congregation, Jonna learned to keep a sense of perspective

“In the church we are used to counting souls who worship on Sundays. Instead, we need to count souls touched by the congregation’s ministries, people we may not see in worship.

“We need to count those who connect through our wedding ministry, our bereavement care, our food pantry and our Bible school,” she said. “There are many ways people connect to church other than Sunday mornings. If we count those numbers, we will see the church is not dying but is involved in the lives of many people.”

In that spirit, Jonna is confident about the future of the PNW Conference because it is rich in human assets.

“This transitional season is stressful, but there is a fruitful season of ministry ahead,” she said.

For information, call 206-725-8383 or email


Pacific Northwest Conference Summer United Church News copyright © June 2023


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